Prosecutors won the right Wednesday to play publicly, for the first time, the cockpit voice recorder from the hijacked Sept. 11 jetliner that crashed in Pennsylvania after a passenger insurrection.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she will allow the tape and a transcript of the chaotic ending to United Airlines Flight 93 to be presented to the jury next week in Zacarias Moussaoui’s sentencing trial.
It will be part of prosecutors’ presentation of graphic evidence of the cruelty and inhumanity of the Sept. 11 attacks as they push for the jury to issue a death sentence in the trial’s second phase starting Thursday. The 37-year-old al Qaeda conspirator was found eligible for a death sentence on Monday.
Moussaoui has admitted that he concealed the suicide hijacking plot from federal agents when he was arrested in Minnesota in mid August 2001, and told jurors last week that he was training to fly a fifth plane into the White House.
Brinkema’s ruling on the cockpit recording resolves an issue that has lingered in the case for more than three years. The judge said she is “mindful that family members of the flight crew or passengers on Flight 93 may object to the voices of their loved ones being publicly revealed in this manner.”
She ruled that neither the tape nor the transcript may be disseminated outside of the courtroom if any family member of the 33 deceased passengers and seven crew members objects in writing by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Some victims’ family members who attended private sessions where the tape was played cheered Brinkema’s decision. Relatives of those who led the effort to regain control of the cockpit have been irked by at least one published report suggesting that the al Qaeda terrorists crashed the San Francisco-bound jet in a Pennsylvania field on their own.
Hamilton Peterson, president of the board of Families of Flight 93, said Wednesday that “the persistence and the courage of the passengers and crew are reflected in the recordings, which will remove any doubt as to the cause of the plane’s crash.”
Peterson, a government lawyer who lost his father and stepmother in the crash, noted that evidence indicates the four hijackers planned to crash the jet into the U.S. Capitol.
At least four movies have been made about Flight 93, but Burnett’s widow, Deena Burnett of Little Rock, Ark., said she does not think a movie or news article can fully convey the events in the flight’s waning minutes and that only release of the tape would “show the true heroism of that day.”
For the public to “hear the people’s voices, know exactly what happened would just portray the American spirit in a way that it has never been portrayed before,” she said.
The latest movie based on Flight 93, scheduled to open in theaters later this month, has provoked controversy in recent days because of a preview now playing in many cities. At least one theater, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, banned the clip because of customer complaints.